Monday, May 12, 2014

Regarding Serious and Silly Things – The Magic Behind Teen Titans Go!

 (Recently Published on Bleeding Cool)

In a recent interview with Comic Book Resources, writer and sandwich aficionado Aaron Horvath of Cartoon Network’s hit series Teen Titans Go! opened up about how the series evolved from the its original incarnation to the untamed lunacy found in its current run. 

For those not in the know, Teen Titans Go! is the second animated series starring the Titans to be produced by Cartoon Network, not counting the New Teen Titans shorts that aired prior to the shows premiere last year. Based on the DCU’s most famous team of adolescent do-gooders, Teen Titans was developed by David Slack and represented a bold departure from previous entries in the DCU Animated Universe.  Premiering back in 2003, the series broke form and took a decidedly more light-hearted approach to the world of caped crime fighting than predecessors like Batman: TAS and Justice League Unlimited.

Throughout the run of the series, which like the recently-departed Community lasted five seasons but receive a direct-to-video movie, the Titans never took off their costumes and the subject of secret identities was only broached in passing jokes.  Robin was the only Titan that wore a mask and, for the most part, the team hung out with each other and only went outside to fight bad guys or get some pizza.

While the show had some multi-episode arcs it really was the type of show that viewers could follow without needing too much prior knowledge about the genre or its characters. There were also no crossovers with the rest of the DCU, other than guest appearances from characters that have always been considered Titans, which is impressive considering the team leader was Robin of Batman and Robin fame.

In my opinion, the most impressive aspects of the show’s legacy were that it transcended expectations in the genre and developed each character down to the core of what makes them relatable. Credit to Series Developer David Slack for creating a well-balanced foundation with Robin (the overachiever), Cyborg (the jock), Beast Boy (the goof), Starfire (the foreigner) and Raven (the goth).  This Breakfast Club of the DC Zeitgest connected with audiences in a big way and ultimately influenced some major changes in the DCU.  Everything from the internet-shaking pairing of Raven and Beast Boy to the meteoric rise of Cyborg’s stock from life-long Titan to founding member of the Justice League - which we will likely see adapted in film - can be attributed, at least in part, to the success of Teen Titans.

But with that being said, in the hands of showrunners Aaron Horvath and Michael Jenenic, Teen Titans Go! has taken that foundation to exciting new heights.  No longer is this a program tethered by anti-crossover rhetoric, canonical dogma and multi-episode arcs.  As Walter White might have mused if he had given more time to superhero-infused animated comedy: this show is awake, and in a delightfully post-modern way.

For those unfamiliar, the differences between Teen Titans Go! and its original incarnation will be apparent within seconds. Put simply, when compared the original series comes across like Watchmen adaptation whereas its current incarnation is a cross between the Avengers and Adventure Time. It utilizes characters that were previously established in the original series, such as Terra and Speedy, with a blank slate and has delivered some awesome Batman cameos and references, including this gem which I recommend starting 1:32 into the clip. That Alfred bit gets me every time.

This freedom from continuity was written in the series DNA from the start and, according to Horvath, was actually part of the reason he was offered the gig in the first place.

“We make it a point to not do continuity -- there's no continuity in the show. But there are certain things that we like. You don't need to know a lot about the Teen Titans to get a lot of the jokes, and we do that on purpose.”

“The reason they asked me to work on the show is because I didn't work on the original series, so I didn't bring any thing to it that was going to be too referential -- I wasn't going to make jokes about things that happen in an episode that maybe this new audience that we're going for hadn't seen.”

Despite not having been part of the original series, Horvath appreciates its fans and enjoys giving the occasional nod to Teen Titans.
“There's a lot of smaller stuff, nods to the fans of the original show who we hope now are enjoying this show. A lot of them come in the form of Easter eggs in the background and character relationship stuff that we like to carry over from the first series. That's stuff that the fans had a lot of fun with. I'm sure the creative team on the original Teen Titans series had fun with it too, but I think they probably never wanted Robin and Starfire to get together or Beast Boy and Raven for any of these kind of [relationships]. I think they kind of danced around it and they probably had fun, they probably enjoyed the fact that fans were latching onto these characters and matching them up and stuff. But for us, it's so many years later and these character relationships have survived the test of time. Like, there's fans that [say] Beast Boy and Raven are meant to be, all these years later. That's a lot of fun for us, and fits very well with the tone of the show, based on the idea that it's a character-driven comedy show. It's like okay, there's two characters who have this relationship, and we can have a lot fun with it.

Not only does the show avoid the many pitfalls of building a detailed mythology or indulging in any serious romantic relationships, it also does not shy away from meta-commentary, which is always good for a gold star with the post-modern youth of today.

There's always got to be something in every episode that feels to us like it's fresh or hasn't been done before. And I know that's kind of a ridiculous thing to say, but that's kind of what we're striving for is just try to do a joke that hasn't been told or whatever. I always want it to feel fresh and unique and funny so that's our challenge.

“There's one episode that's pretty meta that's kind of a response to a lot of criticisms that have been leveled at our show. It's this "Young Justice" crossover episode where they're going to show up and kind of chastise our Titans for being terrible superheroes. "You're giving all these superheroes a bad name, and you need to get more serious!" And that's the episode where they want to get more serious.”

While on the subject of the serious and the silly – which is a seriously silly subject indeed - it would be remiss not to mention that, considering what school of thought has arrived at the second season of its second successful series and which serious series lasted just two seasons before being cancelled…I think it would be clear to anyone that these Titans are playing on the right side of the contemporary caped-crusading field. 

But don’t take my word for it, if haven’t hopped on this train yet, its time to get up and Go!

No comments:

Post a Comment